Why Reform Fails
As a prime example, we can focus on problems in education, articulated a couple of decades ago and addressed by the attempted reform of education beginning with "No Child Left Behind" under the Bush administration. To improve schools we need them to test students and be held accountable for standardized learning goals, and if we do that, US students will become competitive with future international economic elites. This will increase our economic competitiveness and also bring racial equality to those social groups who have been left behind in the US.
Allegedly, problems in schools also relate to labor unions, which bargained for teacher evaluation systems based on evidence and peer evaluation. This dynamic has supposedly led to abuse of tenure and laborious procedures requiring due process for firing, preventing the placement of good teachers in our classrooms. Unions have also whittled away at merit pay that should be determined by principals and other administrators.
The reforms - high stakes testing, charter or privatized schools without unions.
With Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan's visit to New Hampshire last week, we can see that this narrow-focused, top down reform is alive and well in the Obama administration, even though during the presidential campaign, Obama was critical of Bush's "no child left behind". Teachers - tomorrow - can look forward to management takeover of evaluation systems largely informed by student results on standardized tests. In other words if students don't improve test performance it's the fault of incompetent teachers.
For these problems, effective teaching to the test will not help. It doesn't make any difference how good the teacher is. But based on the untested assumptions that testing is the cure, and that "good" teachers can overcome the social barriers and distractions outside the classroom, the establishment continues its narrowly focused reform. To effectively address the problem, broad based social reform beyond the narrow approaches from the top down are called for.
We need to acknowledge the interconnectedness of formal education with changes in primetime educational TV
programming - not prioritizing profit resulting from consumerism; truth squading advertisements for both candidates and consumer goods; public financing of elections; guaranteed jobs; universally accessible/affordable healthcare; and to improve
education - recognizing teaching as a profession and paid and honored as such. Until we do, reform unconnected to real problems will increase tensions and maintain a failing status quo.
Education reform is just one example. My bet is that as long as we do not demonstrate a willingness to look at the fundamental value problems of our society and work on massive overhauls instead of small reforms, we will continue to ignore real evidence, and thus continue to be the preeminent power in causing global climate change, to worsen the divisions between the haves and have-nots, to increase polarization and inequality, and to focus more on blame than resolution.
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